Monday, April 30, 2018

Tolkien's Take on a Finnish Myth

The Story of KullervoThe Story of Kullervo by J.R.R. Tolkien
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A take on a Finnish myth by J.R.R. Tolkien similar to his Silmarillion, only much shorter, narrower in vision, and a good deal more unfinished.

Since my father's side comes from Finland, my ears perk up whenever Finnish things get mentioned. It happens that infrequently. Sort of like how when I grew up in the country and only a handful of cars would drive by our house everyday, so I'd prairie dog it every dang time. Anywho, back to the review...

This edition, edited by Verlyn Flieger, goes the extra length to recoup and curate the essence of Tolkien's attempt at The Story of Kullervo. There is a helpful introduction that sets up the story nicely for the uninitiated. There are reprints of Tolkien's handwritten notes. Following the actually story, which is about 40 pages long, are nearly a hundred pages worth of plot synopses notes and essays regarding Finnish myth. There is more written about the story than the story itself. That's due diligence.

The story is fairly brutal in the good, ol' fashioned sense of the word. Like many old fairy tales, people die often and often in horrible ways. However, in keeping with tradition, Tolkien alludes to the horror rather than give you every bit of the gory details. Sometimes the alluded to scene is so fleeting you have to stop, go back, and reread. On two or three occasions I had a "wait, what?" moment.

The story is not "one for the ages", but it does have that classic and epic mythological feel to it. For story enjoyment, this gets 3 stars from me. But from a production value standpoint, I've bumped the book up a star.

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Orwell Living the Poor Life

Down and Out in Paris and LondonDown and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This reminded me a bit of Thoreau's Walden in that you don't feel like Orwell had to go through with this. It's self-imposed deprivation. However, while Thoreau went on a camping trip to prove he was a hardy outdoorsman and that anybody could and should do it, Orwell put himself through his ordeal in order to investigate a situation. The same problem exists in both circumstances though. Both men could extract themselves at any time if they wished. In Orwell's situation, that means he was only experiencing the details of being poor, not fully feeling the all-but inescapable confinement of being destitute. Knowing you can't get out of a situation has a deleterious affect on one's outlook and actions.

Having said that, Orwell gets as close to the real thing as probably possible in Down and Out in Paris and London. Throughout much of the narrative, he's living hand to mouth with only the clothes on his back for possessions. The going is tough and made tougher by the prejudice people show towards a tramp.

But Orwell's a good storyteller with plenty of tales to tell. His characterizations of some quite colorful characters are a joy. So, while this topic can get heavy at times, there's enough lighthearted fun within these pages to make the reading fairly even.

Because parts of this book were admittedly embellished and other parts are clearly a factual account, it's hard to know how to shelve this and it's not always easy to trust what you're reading. I want to say that it's obvious what's real and what isn't, but seeing how some people fall hard for fake news these days, I'm hesitant to label anything "obvious".

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Just Add Water

Just Add Water (Mail Order Massacres)Just Add Water by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When David and Patrick order Amazing Sea Serpents from the ad in the back of a Wonder Woman comic, they wait 6-8 weeks to receive an envelope of disappointment in the mail. However, when they dump the Amazing Sea Serpents down the sewer, they get more than their money's worth.

I'd pre-ordered this, fueled by nostalgic memories of Sea Monkey ads in the backs of comics back in the day and my fandom of Hunter Shea. Imagine my delight when it popped up on Netgalley AND I got approved for it.

Just Add Water is another one of Hunter Shea's lovably gory creature features. David and Patrick are junior high kids at the dawn of the 1980s. Like many of us who were comic nerds in the days before such a thing was fashionable, the ad for some amazing anthropomorphic pets caught their eyes. Unlike most of us, they actually ordered them. Turns out, what they got was monster eggs.

Just Add Water feels like an 80's kids' monster movie, like The Monster Squad, only with a much higher body count and ten times as much gore. While there's a dose of nostalgia, it's so smeared in gore that it's soon unrecognizable. And the early 80s nostalgia isn't limited to comics and TV. There's also a key party that goes horribly, horribly wrong.

Hunter Shea's writing continues to entertain the shit out of me. I'm convinced we would have been buds back in our younger days due to our mutual interests in comics, cryptids, and monsters in general. Now if he'd just lift that damn restraining order...

Just Add Water is a horror novella that is a hell of a lot of bloody fun. I can't wait to read the next installment in the loosely connected series, Optical Delusion. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, April 27, 2018


Robert Winter
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Death threats drove him from his country. Can he ever find asylum from his past?

Hernán had family, college, and a future in El Salvador. Until a vicious gang targeted him as gay. Threatened with murder, he braved a nightmare journey toward a new life. Now, haunted by his trek, he hides from immigration trouble as well as his enemies. He prays to pass in Provincetown unnoticed.

But a handsome man with a secret like Hernán’s is vulnerable to predators.

Colin is in town for a wedding when he falls into the harbor. The man who rescues him is dark-haired, dark eyed and gorgeous. He’s also a target because of his immigration status. Colin owes a debt, and wants to repay it by helping his savior escape the monsters who would exploit him.

Hernán yearns to trust the kind man who offers him sanctuary. Will his demons destroy his chance at a future with Colin?

My Review

I’ve read all but one of Robert Winter’s books and loved them. I jumped at the opportunity to read Asylum, even though it is the sequel to September, the one book of Winter’s that I haven’t read yet. I was assured this is a standalone story, so I jumped right in. Apparently, there are some spoilers for the first book, but I didn’t feel bad about reading out of order. This just makes me even more excited to get my hands on September.

This story starts with a drunken plunge into Provincetown Harbor. Though Colin is happy his best friend, Brandon, is getting married, the event is a bittersweet one as he remembers he had feelings for him. Hernán, who is from El Salvador and now illegally in the US, happens to be nearby and saves Colin. The attraction is instant, but their encounter is brief. Hernán is guarded because of his past and his immigration status. Colin works for a non-profit organization that helps immigrants and has an opportunity to help Hernán. Colin knows he is vulnerable, particularly when he overhears a threatening conversation while dining at the restaurant Hernán works at.

The author has based Hernán’s story on true events. There were times I felt I was being beaten over the head with a message, but the details of Hernán’s persecution by a gang and violent attack because of his sexuality, the harrowing journey to the US and the abuse and deprivation he suffered at the hands of smugglers was gripping and utterly heartbreaking. Even though my views on immigration lean toward the conservative side, I couldn’t help but root for Hernán and hope he finds safety, peace, and love in the US.

Colin comes from a very wealthy family and keeps that fact well hidden, even from his closest friend. He doesn’t want to use his skills in the family business. His true satisfaction comes from helping others. I love his determination to fight on Hernán’s behalf and the growing attraction between the two men. They have hurdles to overcome and trust takes time, particularly considering Hernán’s history. Their love scenes were deeply passionate and sensitively rendered. I liked how they work through difficulty openly and honestly, without unnecessary angst.

The ending felt a little rushed. Otherwise, this was a well-written, engaging, and thoughtful story.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


Bitterwood (Dragon Age, #1)Bitterwood by James Maxey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dragons rule the world and subjugate the men living in it. Those who aren't enslaved are taxed into poverty. The dragons rule forged a man into a dragon killing weapon. Dragons took away his family so he takes away their lives. His name is Bitterwood. Unfortunately it seems the feared Bitterwood has killed the wrong dragon. After killing the prince, the king decides humanity must be wiped out once and for all.

Bitterwood is truly not at all what I expected it to be. The dragons aren't truly the massive fire breathing monsters I envisioned. They aren't much bigger than men. They also live in castles, keep slaves, read books, collect taxes, and do many things ancient rulers were known to do. The most surprising thing is it gets weirder. The story itself is actually largely science fiction.

Some aspects of Bitterwood are just what I envisioned namely Bitterwood himself. After losing his family to dragons, Bitterwood turned into a medieval Punisher basically deciding the only good dragon is a dead one. He kills all the dragons he can and allows his hate to fuel and guide him.

While Bitterwood is the tile character most of the story is told through the eyes of others. The varied points of view were overall appreciated, particularly Zanzeroth. Zanzeroth is an advisor to the king, but is largely known as a deadly Hunter who is still somewhat feral. He stalks Bitterwood throughout the tale and is incredibly dangerous.

Bitterwood was a largely enjoyable story with little resemblance to what I initially imagined.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018


The Stranger Beside MeThe Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“And, like all the others, I have been manipulated to suit Ted’s needs. I don’t feel particularly embarrassed or resentful about that. I was one of many, all of us intelligent, compassionate people who had no real comprehension of what possessed him, what drove him obsessively.”

 photo IMG_1773_zps7vqzsukz.jpg
Would you trust this man?

Comparisons could be made between Lois Lane and the writer Ann Rule. She was caught in the middle of a bizarre set of circumstances that was quickly becoming a nightmare. Someone she considered a friend was being accused of things that she simply could not comprehend. Even with her years of work in law enforcement, she still had trouble believing what was being said about Ted Bundy. I was a bit surprised to read that she was not embarrassed that she had been so fooled. If Dr. Spock is right, maybe something on a more subconscious level was keeping her from accepting the truth.

“Dr. Benjamin Spock, who worked in a veterans’ hospital dealing with emotional illnesses during World War II, commented at the time that there was a pronounced cross-sex problem in dealing with psychopathic personalities. The male psychopaths had no difficulty in bewitching female staff members, while the male staff picked up on them rapidly. The female psychopaths could fool the male staff but not the women.”

Rule worked with Ted Bundy at the crisis center in Seattle, answering the calls of those in desperate need of help. Knowing what we know now about Bundy, I wonder if he didn’t work there just to feed on the pain of others. He made an impression on Rule, just like he did on most of the people he came into contact with. He was personable, charismatic, extremely good looking, and intelligent. In her mind, he was a substitute for her younger brother who had passed away. It was the beginning of a long friendship that never wavered, even as more and more evidence was turning slivers of doubts into shocking realities.

Wherever Ted Bundy lived, pretty, young women were dying.

”A sexual psychopath, according to Dr. Jarvis, is not legally insane, and does know the difference between right and wrong. But he is driven to attack women. There is usually no deficiency in intelligence, no brain damage, or frank psychosis.”

Whatever we may have in our mind of what a sexual deviant is, Ted Bundy did not fit that profile. He didn’t have a scar bisecting his face or a hunched back or a withered arm or bristling insanity twisting his features. To most women, if King Arthur were to take off his helmet, they would want him to look like Ted Bundy. He was well spoken and appeared about as harmless as a man 6 ft tall and 160 pounds can look. He was above suspicion.

 photo Ted20Bundy20Lawyer_zpsvmk3nvya.jpg
Bundy looked more like a lawyer than his lawyers did.

Bundy was in fact one of the most dangerous humans to ever walk the planet. He was born lacking one key ingredient, a conscience. Interesting enough, he played on the conscience of his intended victims. He tricked them with a fake broken arm in a sling, a leg cast, and other things that would lower their defenses even further. He had a knack for finding those women most vulnerable, the weakest, and separating them from the pack.

He was a merciless predator.

There is speculation that he killed over 38 women, but there are others that believe that the number could be well over a 100. All of his victims were beautiful, talented women who just happened to part their long hair in the middle.

And why?

We always want to understand the criminally insane as if that will give us the keys to protecting ourselves from them. Unfortunately, psychopaths like Bundy blend with us as if they belong with us, but the truth is there is no rehabilitation for someone like Bundy. He is controlled by his darkest desires, his midnight obsessions.

I’ve always found Bundy to be one of the more unfathomable of the pantheon of serial killers. It was as if he found his victim’s beauty an affront against his own existence. He was so cold, calculating, and brutal. He was a rising star in the Republican party in Washington state. He even had a gig driving the governor of Washington around for awhile. He was a man with all the tools to become governor himself.

I have to give Rule props, though. She admitted to her own naivety. Her disbelief in the face of insurmountable evidence was in some ways frustrating to me. Even with her professional law enforcement experience, she struggled to bring herself to believe that the man she had thought so much of was also a homicidal maniac. There is something very human in her reaction. She was a loyal friend. She believed in the man that Bundy was supposed to be.

He wanted to tell her. ”’There are things I want to tell you...but I can’t,’ was there something I could have said that would have allowed him to talk to me then?”

Bundy left a string of bodies in Seattle, Salt Lake City, Aspen, and Tallahassee. He escaped from prison twice which led to more tragedies. His compelling need to kill was too strong to be put on hold even when the very best thing he could do was give himself a new name and blend back into the population again.

 photo Ted20Bundy20Wave_zpszpgvv0c9.jpg
Ted Bundy, always the showman, waves to the press.

Ann Rule probably had one of the more unique views of a killer I’ve ever encountered. Her account is honest and thorough. You will know Ted Bundy at the end of this book. You still won’t understand him. The fears you have of evil will never be manifested on the faces of the perpetrators. They are hidden beneath the skin. It is something dark inside them that writhes in the place where the soul is supposed to reside.

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Monday, April 23, 2018

The Real Dwight

The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and IdiocyThe Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy by Rainn Wilson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If for nothing else, this should be heralded for being an almost perfectly constructed autobiography.

But wait, there's more! Rainn Wilson, aka Dwight from The Office, has done a bang-up job at creating a very enjoyable read in The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy. His pacing, timing and storytelling are rock solid. Tangents and digressions are kept at reasonable lengths, are labeled as such and even apologized for, which is unnecessary because they're honestly not that long and generally have some bearing upon the topic at hand.

But here's the important thing: Rainn Wilson is interesting a.f.! His Dwight character is not that far off from reality. I kind of guessed that ahead of time, but it is absolutely fascinating to see the hows, whats, and whys behind the making this delightfully strange individual. Hell, even the wheres are intriguing! Here, I'll give you a taste: Young Rainn was raised for a time in a dirt-poor, secluded Central American former pirate town that still to this day must be approached via boat, and it's not an island! Trust me, that little tidbit is nothing compared to the cuckoo crazy times that made up this man's formative years.

Now, perhaps I'm gushing about Rainn's book, because it struck a chord with me. His tastes, his brand of humor, the fact that he played D&D and was a bit of an outsider, all these things I could relate to. So of course I'm going to enjoy this more than someone else who is his polar opposite. Let's put it like this: If you are repulsed by his Dwight personality, then just steer clear of this book. I don't know why you'd want to read it anyhow. But really, there's no point, even if you're just looking to hear a bit about The Office. Trust me, there's not enough on that topic herein to satisfy that itch and make reading this whole book worthwhile. You should be reading it for the love of Rainn!

Warning. He talks a lot about his personal religion, the Baha'i Faith. I don't know much about it, but it seems like a fairly positive umbrella religion for all the other religions, which means it will likely be attacked by all other religions out of fear that it might supplant them one day. Meh, what do I care, I don't go in for organized religion, so it's no skin off my scrotum.

Final thought: Don't read this book, listen to it! Rainn is a comedic character actor. His talents translate to vocal work. Thankfully, he's a good narrator, and specifically he reads this book with all the inflections and dramatic flair it requires. Unless you know him and his humor intimately, if you read it on your own you're going to miss many of the jokes. Whoosh, right over your head.

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Walking A Snowy Memory Lane

The Abominable Snowman (Choose Your Own Adventure, #13)The Abominable Snowman by R.A. Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

YOU are a kid who likes to climb mountains, so let's hit the Himalayas!

*BRAKE SCREECH* Reread that title. This ain't just gonna be a hiking book, my friend. We're going after the yeti!

The Abominable Snowman is the first Choose Your Own Adventure [CYOA] I've seen that comes with a map. It's not a highly detailed map, but hey, it's a map! Whereas others were published as pure fun, this CYOA seems set on being a teaching tool. Along with the map, there's also an illustration of the Himalaya range with each peak's name and height listed.

The book kicks off with my buddy Carlos going ahead and getting stranded. Is he okay or should I go after him? Let's dive in!

Adventure #1: I decide to cancel my meeting with the director of expeditions and mountain research to go find my budski, Carlos! The director says he'll go with me. I think this is great, but...When we find Carlos' deserted camp, instead of suggesting we need to find Carlos, the director suggests we go in search of the yeti. Now, I think author R.A. Montgomery meant for us readers to take the leap together and jump to the conclusion that yeti have kidnapped Carlos, and so therefore we need to go find them in order to find him. But honestly, this scene just comes off as goofy. Oh shit, wait a sec...I'm sorry, I forgot I'm reading a children's book! ONWARD! I do my best to play it safe as much as possible, but Montgomery keeps pulling back in! Eventually, and quite out of the blue, I end up with some aliens traveling with Carlos to the Planet of the Seas to gain wisdom. Odd a.f.

Adventure #2:
The director and I find Carlos. The damn fool hiked off after yeti tracks by himself! We head back to camp and I find a weird hippie sherpa burning incense at the Kathmandu general store. We head off for the Annapurna peak and see what appears to be a signal light flashing. Thinking someone is in distress, we make for the signal and discover it comes from a yeti celebration bonfire. So, yeti do exist. Huh.

Adventure #3:
This time I leave Carlos for dead, and the director and I head off. We meet a monk and I agree to go on a Buddhist's journey of enlightenment. I have a transcendent moment, am given a benevolent yeti guide and we literally fly to Shangri-La. The alien abduction actually made more sense than this...

Adventure #4:
This time I say screw Carlos and the director, and go it alone!...and immediately hit a monsoon. Game over, dude.

Adventure #5:
Clearly I'm not meant to go without the director, so I apologize (yes, that's an option) and do ask if he'll join me on my expedition. He says he'll accept my apology and go...if he can be expedition leader. What a douche! Sneaking a peek ahead at my options, I see that I have no choice but to let him be our leader. It sucks, but what are ya gonna do? It turns out good for me, because we obtain better gear and provisions than what I could have got on my own. It also works out well for Carlos, because he gets rescued. But it doesn't work out so great for me, the reader, because somehow I end up back on the Buddhist's journey of enlightenment track from adventure #3, and there's no branch off storylines here, so it's the same old song and dance.

I could continue reading. There's 28 possible endings to this book. That seems like quite a few until you notice that there are numerous choices where it was basically do you want to continue? or do you want to end your journey?. A bunch of abrupt endings like that attached to one story path significantly reduces the overall adventure possibilities herein, and that's a bummer. However, there are more adventures to be had. They seem interesting from what I could tell from some of the illustrations by stalwart CYOA illustrator Paul Granger. Perhaps I will continue reading, but I'm not going to add to my review and spoil the whole dang book for you!

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Half-Made Girls

Half-Made Girls (Pitchfork County, #1)Half-Made Girls by Sam Witt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joe Hark is the Night Marshal of Pitchfork County, a rural area of Missouri plagued by meth and monsters. When someone crucifies a mutilated girl in a church, Joe finds himself balls deep in a mess involving drugs, demonic forces, and dark gods.

Sam Witt wrote The Astromundi Cluster, a Spelljammer supplement I should get around to writing a review for one of these days. On a whim, I wanted to see what else he wrote and this popped up, for free no less. I've long thought rural fantasy had untapped potential as a genre and I was right in this case.

The lazy way to describe Half-Made Girls is The Dresden Files meets Winter's Bone. There's a lot more grit and a lot more gore than the Dresden files and I don't get the feeling the Night Marshall is working with a safety net like I do with Harry Dresden. The Night Marshall isn't an overly glib white knight, either. He's the guy that gets his hands dirty and does what needs to be done when someone walks the Left Hand Path of dark sorcery.

Set in Pitchfork County, Missouri, a dirt poor place where being a meth dealer is one of the only forms of employment, Half-Made Girls is a tale of dark forces that threaten to consume the earth and the one man that can stop them, the Night Marshall, Joe Hark. Now if he could just put aside his alcohol problem and the curse that has forced a wedge between his family and himself....

Joe Hark is more Roland the Gunslinger than Harry Dresden, a hard man that's been to hell and back a dozen times. When meth head cultist stir up some serious shit, The Night Marshall is forced to do some things he doesn't want to do and question his beliefs and methods in order to set things right. Heavy shit.

As befits the situation, the violence is stark and brutal and no one is making half-assed quips or tired Star Wars references. Even though I knew it was the first book in a series, I felt like all bets were off and I could be reading about a new Night Marshall in the second book.

There's a real sense of place to the book. Sam Witt paints a vivid picture of life in the Ozarks. When he's not painting it in blood and gore, anyway.

Sam Witt is also a much better writer than I thought he'd be. He knows how to write suspense and the dialogue is spot on. Also, he writes things like this: It looked like a bathroom at Hogwarts after a week long meth binge.

Half-Made Girls is a gripping, sometimes gut-wrenching read, so much more than the urban fantasy fluff I was afraid it was going to be. It actually has more in common with Brian Keene's Ghost Walk. Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

BookExpo 2018 and BookCon, the premier 5 day book event in New York City starts on May 30 to June 3

Book Expo  America  is the number one book author event in America and is a perfect way to see the state of literature and books.  It takes place at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City between May 30 and June 1, 2018.

As a bookaholic, it’s a great way to meet authors and be surrounded by books. If you are in the industry, a bookseller, librarian or book reviewer, this is the event for you.  Besides huskers, who will sell you many items, and several special lunches or breakfasts, there are lectures by famous authors, readings and panels. BookExpo is for people in the industry. . It is not for consumers, who can attend Bookcon, that occurs on June 2 and June 3, which I will discuss further below.

The highlight for me, as always, is the books and the interaction with the authors.  BookExpo has a legion of autograph lines where free novels and non-fiction books are handed out to the participants.  One day is more devoted to young adult titles, while the other day, seems to be more devoted to older fare.  If you are willing to stand on line, you will get a few minutes with your favorite authors, a signed advanced reader copy or an entirely full book to read. Or as most librarians I talked to do, copies of books for their summer programs or chances to get soon to be published books to get a first read to see if the books are good to get.  
Book Expo 2017 returned from Chicago to New York City after a one year absence.  Although the show officially started on Wednesday, that day was limited to educational programs.  I went on Thursday and Friday, where the crowds were immense.  To my eye, the autographing area was smaller than two years previously, although the major publishers did have a lot of action at their booths.  This is definitely a place to go and meet other readers who all have similar interests.
Its also important to plan ahead.  BookExpo puts out an online schedule of authors and autographing.  Some autograph lines require tickets. Without a ticket, the chance to get that book are much lower. Since the event starts in a little over a month, if you are interested in going, now would be a good time to plot out who to see. 

MAJOR HINT:  Remember, books are heavy and unwieldy. The way to go is to bring a suitcase  or two and park it in the bag check aisle.  Then as you get your books, bring them to the suitcase. This way you can snare books but not have to lug them around.

A highlight this year is the Bernie Sanders speech on May 31 at 7:15 pm, but there are also Author Breakfasts and Teas.  The Author breakfasts and teas do have a separate charge.

A few words about BookCon.  This two day event that follows BookExpo is open to consumers and is relatively inexpensive.  Autographs are given out on books, but you need to sign up for tickets to the listed authors and tickets are all dispensed online.  In order to get tickets online mailed to your house, you must purchase them by April 23, 2018. Otherwise, tickets will need to be picked up there, which means another big line. Kids tickets (ages 6-12) are ten dollars per day.  Adult tickets are $35 on Saturday and $30 on Sunday.  Bookcon wants adults with all kids so you need to plan for that.
Hint. Parking near Jacob Javits is not cheap and the area is on the far west side.  Use a parking app like  or to get a spot now.

 Last year I went with three teenagers on Saturday and two teenagers on Sunday.  Saturday was a much more fun day.  Most of the publishers who were there on Saturday, had decamped by Sunday.  One or two major publishers were still there on Sunday, so the horde of people overwhelmed the space, which is much smaller than the BookExpo space.  Security had to get involved to clear pathways and it was almost impossible to get access to books.  

My suggestion for BookCon is to go on Saturday. Major Hint, get there early.  Although tickets are dispensed for the authors online, there is a mad scramble from the basement of Jacob Javits – bare concrete walls, to the publishers up above.  Thousands of people will be underground. You want to be close to the front in order to secure a good spot when the breakout finally occurs.

Go to to pick out your authors. It pays to get your tickets early so you can get tickets to the autographing.  You need the barcode from your entrance ticket to get tickets to the autographing tickets.  According to BookCon's website, the list of authors will be posted in early May and you can select thereafter.  2 author signings per person per day. While autographs are free some books will cost money. Its important to check the site to make sure you secure a ticket to an author you want to see.

Be prepared to wait and wait and wait some more.  This is a convention, lots of people so there is lots of waiting.  But you should come out with a lot of books as well.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Boston's South End

Anthony Mitchell Sammarco
Arcadia Publishing
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Nancy


Originally a narrow, barren strip of land known as the Neck, Boston's South End grew from a lonely sentry post and execution grounds to what is today the largest Victorian neighborhood in the United States. With the filling of the South Cove in the 1830s, the area became one of the greatest planned residential districts of its time, a heritage preserved in unique architectural features such as red brick swell bay facades, elaborate balusters, and fanciful porches.

My Review

This is a nice pictorial history of the South End in Boston, MA. The neighborhood is known for its Victorian style houses and parks. It was once known as the Neck, a barren strip of land connecting Boston to the city of Roxbury that was once the site of executions. The South End is now a flourishing neighborhood, home to a diverse population and known for its restaurants, boutiques and art galleries. Though the South End is very expensive, there are a number of low-income housing projects.

The pictures featured here include schools, hospitals, the library, businesses, and transportation. There was an interesting tidbit about Dr. Mary Jane Blake-Safford, among the first female gynecologists in the US and a lecturer at Boston University. There are pictures of trolleys, a perfectly efficient and inexpensive mode of transportation that gave way to cars and buses. Like many urban areas, the South End underwent urban renewal, demolishing many old buildings. It would have been fun to see some “then and now” pictures. Instead, I found myself referring to Google Maps to see how some areas stayed exactly the same while others were completely changed.

Reading this makes me want to learn more about the neighborhood I enjoy hanging out in.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Tornado of Sparks

Tornado of Sparks (Bitterwood Trilogy)Tornado of Sparks by James Maxey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Sky Dragon Vendevorex seeks to be named to the court of the dragon King Albekizan. The King demands a different demonstration of Vendevorex that leads to a human baby being orphaned. The would be wizard is far from heartless and he seeks to reunite the baby with her relative that escaped the wizard's demonstration.

Tornado of Sparks is an interesting prequel. First while this takes place before the main series, it was published afterward. This undoubtedly provides some greater insights into the main series. The idea of a dragon king with his court living in a castle was surprising and different from any dragon tale I've read before.

One main curiosity struck me with this book and that is why is Vendevorex seeking a place in court. Vendevorex clearly has power even if it isn't magical as he claims. If he can destroy stone so easily, then dragons like Albekizan should fear the destruction he could cause and stay away from him.

Tornado of Sparks was a good prequel that peeks my interest for the main series.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror FictionPaperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”Between April 1967 and December 1973, everything changed.

In a little more than five years, horror fiction became fit for adults, thanks to three books. Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, Thomas Tryon’s The Other, and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist were the first horror novels to grace Publisher’s Weekly’s annual best-seller list since Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in 1938. And except for three books by Peter ‘Jaws’ Benchley, they’d be the only horror titles on that list until Stephen King’s The Dead Zone in 1979. All three spawned movies and, most important, set the tone for the next two decades of horror publishing.”

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When I started in the book business in Phoenix, Arizona, the Horror section was one of the most pillaged sections in the store. Guys in ripped black t-shirts, Goths with pentagrams tattooed on their wrists, truck drivers displaying way too many inches of butt crack as they searched the lower shelves, and flirty housewives with a glimmer of something dark lurking in their pupils would bring stacks and stacks of black covered paperbacks up to the counter and leave me a heap of cash in exchange. They couldn’t get enough of it.

The Goth chicks were so cool. In an attempt to look edgy and tough, they somehow came out looking adorable.

Then in the early 1990s it just stopped like someone turned off the hydrant to the firehouse. The horror section that was featured so prominently when I started in the business drifted to the back of the bookstore until it evaporated all together. Other than the crossover writers, like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Peter Straub, the market for horror just disappeared. Writers began suggesting to their publishers to market their books as thrillers and not horror. So what the heck happened?

Even now when I write a review of a book that falls into my Nostalgic 1970s Horror Tour Category, I notice that those reviews receive a lot less attention than other reviews I write. So in about 1990, did everyone start sleeping with Blue Smurfs under the glow of a unicorn nightlight?

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The publishers were churning out so much horror material in the 1970s and 1980s that there were plenty of steaming piles of drivel published, sort of like what is happening with the Young Adult market right now, but there were also writers of the horror genre who turned out some fantastic, creative, dare I say literary works, that make a book archeologist like me euphoric.

Grady Hendrix has devoted a chapter to each different subgenre of horror: Hail Satan, Creepy Kids, When Animals Attack, Real Estate Nightmares, Weird Science, Gothic and Romantic, Inhumanoids, Splatterpunks, Serial Killers, and Super Creeps. I came away from this book with a list as long as my arm of novels that I need to investigate further. I was expecting that. I wasn’t expecting Grady to be so damn witty. I haven’t laughed out loud so much reading a book in a long time. My wife was frequently giving me the raised eyebrow look, so I ended up reading her little snippets like this one:

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”Most important try not to have sex with Satan. Fornicating with the incarnation of all evil usually produces children who are genetically predisposed to use their supernatural powers to cram their grandmothers into television sets, headfirst. ‘But how do I know if the man I’m dating is the devil?’ I hear you ask. Here are some warnings signs learned from Seed of Evil: Does he refuse to use contractions when he speaks? Does he deliver pickup lines like, ‘You live on the edge of darkness?’ When nude, is his body the most beautiful male form you have ever seen, but possessed of a penis that’s either monstrously enormous, double-headed, has glowing yellow eyes, or all three? After intercourse, does he laugh malevolently, urinate on your mattress, and then disappear? If you spot any of these behaviors, chances are you went on a date with Satan. Or an alien.”

Okay, so maybe my wife didn’t find that as funny as I did, but she still laughed despite herself. Then there was Grady’s observations on clowns and magicians.

”Hating clowns is a waste of time because you’ll never loath a clown as much as he loathes himself. But a magician? Magicians think they’re wise and witty, full of patter and panache, walking around like they don’t deserve to be shot in the back of the head and dumped in a lake. For all the grandeur of its self-regard magic consists of nothing more than making a total stranger feel stupid. Worse, the magician usually dresses like a jackass.”

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I’m not one for advocating shooting anyone in the back of the head and dumping them in the nearest body of water. I do have a short list of mostly politicians who I would help tie heavy weights to their legs and shiver with guilty pleasure at the sound of that final splash. I could get behind a scheme, though, to put all the clowns, magicians, and mimes in the United States on a leaky boat and ship them off to Central America where I hear their kind are flourishing.

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The book is an oversized paperback loaded with pictures of the innovative and evocative covers that vied for the attention of potential readers. Many have become quite collectible, and reading copies of some of these books can actually be rather difficult to find. There are some small presses, like Valancourt and Telos, who are starting to bring some of these lost treasures back into print. In the late 80s I was too caught up in reading The Beats, Woolf, Bukowski, Fitzgerald, Hemingway etc. to give any time to such “nonsense”. I’m making up for it now, and probably I’m enjoying them more now than I ever would have back then.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Space Opera By: Catherynne M. Valente

Space OperaSpace Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is beautiful, insane fun. It feels like golden age science fiction, where every step you take is weirder and more out there than your last and the only thing you want to do is go forward to see what's there. I have read several of Ms. Valente's works, really enjoyed them all, but the only issue I ever had (and it was a personal thing) She will use 40 words for something that may need 5 (THIS isn't a bad thing, just a personal thing) but here...HERE. She tap dances and waltzes her way through this bizarre landscape with words, beautiful, maddingly gorgeous language. Descriptions and paragraphs and references that are as wild and music filled as the story being told.

This book has won 2018, we can all go home, it's over... Go give her your money, read this!!

5000 stars, a treble clef and 4 blue flamingos out of 5 stars.

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Grey Sister (Book of the Ancestor #2) By: Mark Lawrence

Grey Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #2)Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I did NOT think it was possible to ramp it up from Red Sister, it was exceptionally well done fantasy, hit all the points for a good book that I, as a reader, demand. Then....THEN...Grey Sister comes out and what does the man do? He surpasses himself.

Grey Sister doesn't suffer from the pitfalls of "middle book" syndrome in most trilogies, The blistering pace set doesn't slow down much. Terrific action, more world bullding in this interesting world and characters I care about. I had small quibbles with the first book and honestly the quality and the storytelling has risen to a degree, the quibbles..I DON'T CARE.

If you haven't picked up this series, do it, get in on it right now and thank me later. Mr. Lawrence has a contender for fantasy of the year, (YES, this early)

2200 stars out of 5

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Delightful Confusion

To the LighthouseTo the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know how when you pick up a book you've never read and just start randomly reading a passage right out of the middle you have no idea who the characters are or what's going on? That's what it's like reading To the Lighthouse all the way through.

Virginia Woolf's writing is gorgeous! As an individual entity, each of her acrobatic sentences is an absolute pleasure to read. For a person like myself, who doesn't enjoy overwrought poetry, this is a great alternative read for when I'm actually in the mood for poetry.

Woolf's stream of consciousness writing means To the Lighthouse reads like a dream. The problem is, it's someone else's dream. And honestly, other people's dreams are only interesting in short spurts. 200+ pages worth of someone else's dream is exhausting.

Will my issues with this book stop me from reading more Woolf in the future? Heck no!

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A Fantasy Adventure Begins

The Sword of Bedwyr (Crimson Shadow, #1)The Sword of Bedwyr by R.A. Salvatore
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once upon a time I met R.A. Salvatore. He came to my high school and talked to a small group of us 9th graders. He had just signed his first book contract and was about to embark upon a very successful career as a fantasy writer. This impressed me a great deal, because Salvatore is from Leominster, Massachusetts....I know, that's incredible, right?!....Okay, so the reason that impressed me was because Leominster is right next to Townsend, and Townsend was where I was born and raised. So, the thought of a local boy making good as a writer thrilled me! I wanted to be a writer and here was living proof that a kid from the sticks could live that life!

Salvatore's achievement was a far greater influence upon me than his actual writing, only because it took me 30 frickin' years to read one of his books. I find that amazing. I don't know how it happened. Ever since the day I meant him I've meant to read his stuff, but somehow I never got around to it until this past week. It's one of the great reading snafus of my life.

However, all that is being rectified beginning with the Crimson Shadow series. Book one, The Sword of Bedwyr kicks off the trilogy in a way that promises the kind of fun and adventure I was hoping for! There's battles and monsters and treasure and more!

The book plays out sort of how a game of D&D runs. First you get the party together. In this instance it's just a warrior and thief. A wizard happens along later on, but he's not quite a full member of the band. In this case, we're not starting with first level characters. We've got a skilled swordsman and a practiced thief. They're jumping right into the tough stuff, slaying a bit of sword fodder before diving into some truly tough monster encounters.

The actual characters are at least interesting, if not absolutely enthralling. The thief, a charming and funny halfling, is straight out of a Monty Python sketch. Actually, I mean that literally. He speaks with the heavy accent and delivers the same lines as the castle guard with outraaageous French accent, played by John Cleese, in The Holy Grail. That's borrowing perhaps too heavily from a preexisting source, but I enjoyed it so I let it slide. However, when you have a halfling thief enter a dragon's lair and proceed to flatter the dragon in hopes of escaping the encounter alive, well then you've gone too far with the borrowing. That scene from The Hobbit is just too famous to tread upon. Of course, dragon encounters are nothing new to literature. They go as far back as the Old Testament and Greek epics of the 5th century BCE. It's just, well, that particular scene combination is very Tolkien-specific.

Irregardless, this is still great fun and I'll be moving on to book two soon! I plan to dive into Salvatore's other series, and one day I'll no doubt devour his Drizzt stories. I'm told those are the shit, so I'm saving them and working my way up to them. Hey, ya gotta have something to look forward to!

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Twice Bitten - Rediscovering My Love of Professional Wrestling

Since time out of mind, wrestling was always part of my life.  Some of my dimmest memories are sitting on the floor while my dad watched Wrestling at the Chase on KPLR every Sunday morning.  Watching Randy Savage cheat to beat Tito Santana for the Intercontinental title was what eventually made the wrestling bug bite me.  For years, watching wrestling was my favorite part of the weekend.  Once we got cable when I was in my teens, I was a terminal case.  Or so I thought.

Years passed, occupied by the British Bulldogs, Ricky Steamboat, Bret Hart, Curt Hennig, and many more.  I played Champions of the Galaxy religiously, as well as any wrestling video game I could get my hands on.  The rise of the cruiserweights changed wrestling forever.  While I was a diehard WWF fan, I couldn't deny the thrill of watching the smaller guys compete.  Ultimo Dragon, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, and Dean Malenko lead to me watching both Monday night shows simultaneously on side by side TVs in my parents' basement.  I saw the first Hell in the Cell match live at the Kiel Center and drove three hours each way to see the second last show of the original ECW in Poplar Bluff.  I saw The Rock win the WWF Heavyweight title for the first time and was in attendance at the somber RAW the night after Owen Hart died.  I wish I still had the ticket stubs.

Once the Monday Night Wars ended and both ECW and WCW were wiped out, my interest started to wane.  The job was getting in the way and wrestling seemed to be a lot more talk than I liked, although the first year of Ring of Honor kept the flame going a while longer.  My friends that also watched wrestling were drifting away.  Couple that with two of my favorites dying in the space of two years, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero, and wrestling faded into the background for a while.

Sure, I still followed it from a distance and played the Legends of Wrestling card game from Filsinger Games, but I just didn’t have the time or desire to watch wrestling on TV anymore.  I played my wrestling card game and was pretty content.

Finally, after a drought lasting almost a decade, wrestling started worming its way back into my life, like Damien on a hapless victim of a Jake Roberts DDT.  A co-worker of my wife was a backyard wrestler and we went to one of his shows.  It wasn’t great, although the Vortex knew what he was doing, but it got me thinking about wrestling again.

A couple weeks later, I saw NXT was coming to town and the tickets were cheap. I grabbed the Vortex and had an enjoyable evening but it wasn’t enough. Nor was the WLW show where we met Vader a few weeks later.

Glory Pro had already run a couple shows at that point and they were bringing in some bigger name indy guys to work with the local wrestlers.  The first Glory Pro show I went to featured Michael Elgin vs. Cody Rhodes and Naomichi Marufuji vs. Dijak.  My rationale was that even if the rest of the show was crap, how often does Marufuji come to the greater St. Louis area?

Not only did Glory Pro hook me, I swallowed the hook all the way down to my asshole, as my dad would say.  While the bigger names drew me in, it was the other guys that captured my attention.  Since then, I’ve been to every Glory Pro show and bought every DVD, along with some shirts.

I’ve seen Curt Stallion go from being an underdog to a crowd favorite to a cowardly heel.  I’ve seen Jake Something climb the ladder to be Glory Pro champ.  I’ve seen Stephen Wolf go from being a substitute for DJZ to being part of the biggest angle in the company.  Not to mention Jake Parnell and Gary Jay brutalizing each other, Tyler Matrix’s chest chopped into hamburger, Davey Vega getting pounced through the ropes to the outside by T-Money, Hakim Zane becoming a contender, C-Lo Banks being the best referee in the business, and the whole slew of Indy names who have come through Glory Pro in the last year.

Naito!  I’ve gone from not watching wrestling at all to seeing Naito wrestle in the United States in less than a year!  I’ve seen LuFisto, AR Fox, Martin Stone, Ethan Page, Space Monkey, MJF, Shane Strickland, Jeff Cobb, Mance Warner, Air Wolf, ACH, DJZ, Shigehiro Irie, The Lucha Bros, the list goes on and on.

Funny how I don’t want to commit to a three hour wrestling show on TV but I’ll drive an hour each way on a Sunday afternoon to sit on an uncomfortable steel chair for five or six hours to watch wrestling in a crowded legion hall.  The appeal indy wrestling holds for me is a lot like the preference I have for going to smaller clubs to see bands.  There's an intimacy there, the performers are accessible, and you feel like your presence makes a difference, a far cry from a 20,000 seat arena.  I'd much rather risk having Cole Radrick backdropped into my lap than watch the WWE flavor of the month anyway.

And that’s it, I guess.  I’m looking forward to more Glory Pro events this year and I’ve got tickets to the steel cage showdown between Gary Jay and Jake Parnell in Mattoon for Zero One USA in May.  It’s a great time to be a wrestling fan.

Imperial Valley

Imperial Valley (Jimmy Veeder Fiasco)Imperial Valley by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Tomas Morales tracks down Juan's grandfather, Jimmy Veeder and his wife head to Mexico for a honeymoon and to meet up with him, with Bobby Maves and Grizelda in tow. Little does Jimmy Veeder know that he's stepping into a hornet's nest of drug dealers and killers...

I got this from Netgalley.

Johnny Shaw's dimwitted duo, Jimmy Veeder and Bobby Maves, are back and in fine form. Jimmy gets married and heads to Mexico, only to stir up trouble as only he and Bobby Maves can. Things have changed since the last book, however. Jimmy has built a good life with Angie and Juan and has a lot more to lose.

As with the previous book, the humor is the star of the show. The book is peppered with hilarious lines, shades of early Joe Lansdale. In fact, if Joe Lansdale ever chooses to die and his estate wants to farm Hap and Leonard out to someone, he could do a lot worse than Johnny Shaw.

Speaking of Lansdale, Imperial Valley reminded me of Captains Outrageous, both because of the humor and of the structure, with the first half taking place in Mexico and the second, when the conflict comes home. While I knew Jimmy and Bobby wouldn't die, there were some tense moments.

One thing did irk me, however. When a book is this hilarious, it kind of deflates the sense of jeopardy. When everyone is cracking wise, it's hard to take the violence seriously. That being said, this book is high on violence but higher on laughs. I lost count of lines I would have uttered aloud if anyone was sitting within earshot.

Honestly, the third Jimmy Veeder fiasco does not disappoint. It's as funny as the previous two. Four out of five stars. Special bonus points to Shaw for including the World's Deadliest Mexican from Blood & Tacos #1 for a cameo appearance.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Jim C. Hines "Terminal Alliance" is a smart funny unconventional space opera.

Jim C. Hines "Terminal Alliance" is a fresh funny take on the classic science fiction trope of smart humans seizing their rightful place in a galactic universe controlled by a higher technologically alien races. Its slightly reminiscent of Andre Norton's "Star Guard", a classic sf novel originally published in 1955, in which Terrans have finally joined a galactic empire but are not allowed by the aliens who control the empire to go to the Stars on their own, but are only used as mercenaries because the galactic empire fears humanities talents, but some resolute Terrans are not content with the hand they have been dealt.

In "Terminal Alliance", Earth has suffered a devastating plague, which causes most of humanity to revert to a feral state. The alien Krakau have sought to help humanity. They choose, modify and "re-educate" selected adult humans who are then sent to help the Krakua Alliance as mercenaries or as sanitation specialists aboard spaceships. The Krakua have bio-engineered the human survivors with super human reflexes and strength making them the perfect soldier for their alliance. So short of a spinal or head injury, they can continue to fight. They have also changed the human physiology to remove what they think are impediments, essentially giving everyone a stomach line for food intake, because the Krakua think human food is disgusting.

Hines audaciously focuses on a group of mop wielding sanitation specialists with an expertise in cleaning machines, plumbing and spills as the main characters who have to thwart an alien plot aimed at their crewmates and the Krakua. And he pulls it off superbly.

Hines winning formula features a lot of humor surrounding cleaning, but also around smart characters thrown into unfamiliar circumstances. It takes real talent to turn accepted space warfare situations, gun battles on space stations and dealing with alien mob families and ratchet up both smart reasonable solutions in clever and funny ways. Hines keeps the action fast and the fun high.

Twelve years after being "re-educated" by the Krakua, Mops Adamopoulus is a Lieutenant and commander of a small Shipboard Hygiene and Sanitation janitor team (SHS) on the Pufferfish, a Krakua space cruiser. During a small military action, some human crew members are infected with something and start to revert to ferals. It appears that they have taken out the Krakua command crew leaving Mops in charge of the Pufferfish with just her small contingent of janitors and a single alien Gron, a Glaciade, who rather play space invader like video games, facing the enemy Prodryans and having to fend off the ferals as well. Mops is supported by her AI Doc, a computer linked to the shipboard systems that Mops has upgraded, Wolf, a muscular crew mate who wishes she was a mercenary and Monroe, the ex-mercenary with a metal arm.

Mops and her team are soon on the Krakua wanted list, who want to "put down" the 200 feral humans on the Pufferfish. Forced into unfamiliar roles, Mops goes in search of the Prodryans, who infected her crew. Figuring out how to use the ship weapons, space battles, dealing with multiple alien species on an space station. Hines powers the story using wit and verve. Mops soon learns a Krakuan secret about how humanity devolved into ferals on Earth. We may not have caused the plague.

Six months after my first read, I zoomed through the book again this week. It's just a great fun unconventional read. The Janitors are taking over the Universe. Watch out.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Greater Boston's Blizzard of 1978

Alan R. Earls (introduction by Michael Dukakis)
Arcadia Publishing
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


The great blizzard of 1978 is an event seared in the memory of anyone who lived through it. Most of Greater Boston was quickly overwhelmed by the storm, which shut down all forms of transit, stranded thousands of cars and motorists along Route 128, and virtually shut down most of the state for a week. But for many coastal communities, the impact of the storm, which brought record high tides and pounding surf, was pure devastation. The common thread shared by almost everyone in the region was positive memories of neighbors and strangers helping each other and finding new bonds of community. Greater Boston's Blizzard of 1978, illustrated with approximately 200 photographs from government archives and private collections, brings alive the fading experiences of February 1978 for those who were there and those who can only imagine.

My Review

This was the perfect book to read on my lunch hour after getting hammered with 12 inches of snow. Points south got considerably less, and there were lots of school cancellations, so my commute wasn’t deadly and I got to work at a reasonable hour.

Full of amazing photos showing a city buried under more than two feet of snow, cars stranded on highways, intrepid pedestrians using skis to get around the city, shovelers digging out their buried cars and houses, and the emergency workers and volunteers who provided shelter and aid.

The coastal communities north and south of Boston were hit particularly hard. Streets were flooded and property damage was extensive. Houses were battered, split in half. It was a tragedy for many people. For me, it was winter fun. School was closed for a week and it was several days before I could even leave the house.

I’m sure Governor Dukakis did all he could at the time. He declared a travel ban, which remained in effect for a week, yet thousands of drivers were stranded. Weather forecasting was not as advanced in those days and people were simply unprepared. The sad thing is that Boston is still woefully unprepared for a major storm. They do a shit job removing snow from roads and clearing sidewalks. Poor drainage causes street flooding in many areas of the city. The city is congested and there’s too much traffic. The public transportation system is old and unreliable. And Boston seems to have a difficult time controlling its rats. The zombies who hang around outside the methadone clinics in Boston should be given shovels to clear the messy sidewalks and crosswalks, and all drivers should be required to have snow tires like they are in Canada.

Where were you during the Blizzard of ’78?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Into Exile

Into Exile (Teutevar Saga, #0)Into Exile by Derek Alan Siddoway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lady Guinevere, her old friend Reginlief, and her young son Revan are forced to flee their home in hopes of perseving their lives and the royal Teutevar line. Guinevere's husband Lord Mathyew stayed behind to fight The White Knight, a man he once called friend, in hopes to buy her time to escape. Unfortunately the group is being hunted, their supplies are limited, and they have no particular destination except escaping the growing power of The White Knight.

Into Exile is a story of escape and survival. Athelon has been sacked and it's people are fleeing for their lives and freedom. It appears most of the lands people are unable to preserve either in the onslaught. Lady Guinevere and Reginlief are not a typical lady and her proper friend, they are Valkyries. If not for Mathyew's last request to flee with their son, Guinevere and Reginlief would have battled to the death. The story revovled around the duo and thankfully for them they were far from prim and proper.

While the story was engaging a lot of information was lacking about the world and why their land was attacked. Outside of the normal policy of capturing and executing anyone with a claim to rule, it's not clear why the events were taking place. Some small bits of information were provided that undoubtedly will tie into key plot points in the books to come.

Into Exile was a solid and familiar story of survival, family, and legacy.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Burnt OfferingsBurnt Offerings by Robert Marasco
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”The hum that drew her to the door at the end of the sitting room had become deeper and stronger, but almost imperceptibly so. It was the door itself that caught her attention now. It was white, and framed within the narrow, smooth border was an intricate pattern of lines and curves carved into the wood, so delicate in the room’s dim light that she hadn’t noticed the design until she came within a few feet. Swirls and garlands were cut into triangular panels that met in a small, raised pistil. She moved closer and the design became more intricate and abstract and impenetrable: a globe, a web, a sunburst, a maze, a slab carved with ancient pictographs.”

It all begins with an advertisement.

Restful, secluded. Perfect for large
families. Pool, private beach, dock.
Long season. Very reasonable for the
right people.

Marian Rolfe likes fine things. She even takes temporary work occasionally to afford an extra fine desk or a lovely bureau. She also loves to clean, and more days than not when Ben returns from teaching, he is greeted by the aroma of lemons and polish.

Ben believes she is a bit obsessive.

Marian is determined to escape Brooklyn for the summer. With a thought to protecting their modest savings, Ben wants to stay in Brooklyn and venture out on a few trips to upstate New York when they need some relief from the oppressive heat of summer. Ben is overmatched, of course, with battling a splash of feminine wiles, a dash of not so subtle manipulations, and a smattering of outright deception.

Once Marian sees the palatial, crumbling Allardyce mansion, she is in lust.

The old adage if it is too good to be true is manifesting in Ben’s mind in neon colors and mile high letters. It doesn’t help that the brother and sister team of Arnold and Roz are not only odd, but are as creepy as a pair of zombie monkeys tethered to Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

The house is full of all the wonderful things that Marian can only dream of every possessing. Ornate furniture, delicate vases, expensive dinnerware, and antique clocks are scattered throughout the house, all shrouded with dust and cobwebs. The walls and floors of this faded beauty are drab and dingy. All of this would give most anyone else pause, but Marian sees beyond the dreariness and knows with buckets of Lemon Pledge, warm water, elbow grease, and a pile of fresh rags she can make it gleam again.

I was looking up Lemon Pledge (Marasco never does say exactly what Marian uses to make everything smell of lemons), and believe it or not, there is a “sexual act,” involving two usually elderly men, called Lemon Pledge. I won’t share what act that is, but it definitely falls under gross, moronic, and Never Doing That categories for me. This description, though, of Lemon Pledge made me laugh: “The purest most addictive artificial smell in the history of humankind. As its aroma ventures into your unworthy nostrils, it plants the seeds of ecstasy and euphoria into the womb of your mind.”

Despite Ben’s misgivings, they take the house. After all, it is a bargain, and when would they ever get this opportunity again? Part of the stipulations is that Marian has to feed the matriarch of the family, Mrs. Allardyce, the glorious mother, three times a day by leaving a tray for her outside her ornately carved door. Marian never sees her and only occasionally gets a proof of life by noticing that some of the food on the plates she leaves... has been picked apart.

So this novel is written with a slow burning fuse. There are sprinklings of foreshadowing that add to the unease of the reader. Things start out strange, but not too strange. It was interesting to see the acceptable level we have for the unusual before we start to feel alarmed. Clocks spring to life that refused to work. Weathered roof tiles fall to the ground revealing new tiles. Everything about the house starts to take on a healthy shine. The tendrils of gray hair that start to appear in Marian’s hair are just natural,...right?

Ben starts to feel his personality change. He starts to know with more and more certainty that he needs to get away from this place, whether Marian wants to go or not. Things long buried are being pulled out of the recesses of his brain. ”It wasn’t there. He knew that. It didn’t exist, not outside those childish and unreasonably frightening nightmares. There was absolutely no way something could creep back from the distant past and be real; or out of the tiny, vulnerable part of his brain where the image had lodged itself. And be real and no more than ten feet from him.”

And then there is the creepy chauffeur…*shudder*. He reminds me of Charles Manx from Joe Hill’s book NOS4A2. I wonder if Marasco’s chauffeur had some influence on Hill when he was creating Manx. Certainly, Joe’s father, Stephen King was influenced by this novel when he wrote The Shining, which came out four years after Burnt Offerings was published. This book makes the cut for most lists of Best Haunted House novels or even Best All-Time Horror Novels. It is certainly a classic of the genre. No slashing arcs of blood or piles of steaming gore, just good old fashioned psychological terror. I loved it! It was another perfect addition to my reading resume as part of my nostalgic tour through 1970’s horror. A movie was made in 1976 starring Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Bette Davis, and Burgess Meredith. I will definitely be cuing that up in the near future.

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Monday, April 9, 2018

The Language of Fantasy

The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-BuildingThe Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building by David J. Peterson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"This is just a toe dip." That line is in the concluding chapter of David J. Peterson's The Art of Language Invention and I couldn't agree more.

The topic and practice of language creation feels EXHAUSTING after having read this. And yet, once you've read it, you're quite aware that you've merely glimpsed the tip of the iceberg.

I wanted to learn how to create a new language, which I could incorporate into my fantasy world. As I finish up book two and begin fleshing out number three, all while developing four and five, it has become more and more apparent that I will be creating new races and vocal creatures that should not be speaking English, if my readers are going to have any chance at suspending disbelief. I know it has been done that way and is readily accepted in mainstream productions, but to me, that is the cheese. It is the cheesiest of cheese, by which I mean it stinks. Why would any kind of "alien" race naturally speak English? Obviously advanced civilizations could have translation devices or could be intelligent and advanced enough to cope with learning ESL, but I'm writing old timey fantasy with monsters beating each other over the head with clubs. I doubt they'd have time to enroll in adult ed night courses. So, I wanted to add some realism to my humanoid races. Enter The Art of Language Invention.

Very quickly I realized I was in over my head. This, my friend, is complicated stuff. As an example for your benefit and for my own recollection down the line, here is a list of contents:

Chapter One: Sounds
- Phonetics
- Oral Physiology
- Consonants
- Vowels
- Phonology
- Sounds Systems
- Phonotactics
- Allophony
- Intonation
- Pragmatic Intonation
- Stress
- Tone
- Contour Tone Languages
- Register Ton Languages
- Sign Language Articulation
- Alien Sound Systems
Case Study: The Sound of Dothraki

Chapter Two: Words
- Key Concepts
- Allomorphy
- Nominal Inflection
- Nominal Number
- Grammatical Gender
- Noun Case
- Nominal Inflection Exponence
- Verbal Inflection
- Agreement
- Tense, Modality, Aspect
- Valency
- Word Order
- Derivation
Case Study: Irathient Nouns

Chapter Three: Evolution
- Phonological Evolution
- Lexical Evolution
- Grammatical Evolution
Case Study: High Valyrian Verbs

Chapter Four: The Written Word
- Orthography
- Types of Orthographies
- Alphabet
- Abjad
- Abugida
- Syllabary
- Complex Systems
- Using a System
- Drafting a Proto-System
- Evolving a Modern System
- Typography
Case Study: The Evolution of the Castithan Writing System

There's also a short phrase book at the back that includes approximately one page each of Dothraki, High Valyrian, Shivaisith, Castithan, Irathient, Indojisnen, Kamakawi, Vaeyne and Zaanics.

Some of you GoT fans are probably getting all giddy in your pants at the idea of learning Dothraki. And well you should! This isn't the book to teach you the Horse Lords' language, but it's a start!

That and High Valyrian are Peterson's two most famous creations. They made him semi-famous. Famous enough to be mentioned by the lovable Emilia Clarke on late night tv:

He does a great job in this book of explaining the basics. You could, if you had plenty of time, construct your own brand new and very real language just from reading this book. It probably would be rather basic itself, but it would function. There aren't exactly step-by-step instructions, but Peterson does lay out this book, feeding you the info you need when you need it, in a way that naturally walks you through a language building education. One way to look at it is that instead of taking the full semester's course, you're reading over the syllabus.

Even if you're not interested in creating a new language, The Art of Language Invention is informative to those who are interested in words and language in general. Peterson relays a good amount of language history to the reader in order to explain his theories and practices. I found that quite educational. Also, this is written in a very casual tone. I think the man knew he needed to sugar-coat this stuff for the vast majority of his audience to get it down. If you're into GoT to the point of reading blogs for background information, you'll definitely get something out of this.

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Tolkien's Languages

The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-EarthThe Languages of Tolkien's Middle-Earth by Ruth S. Noel
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent book for those interested in J.R.R. Tolkien's created languages.

With The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-Earth Ruth Noel gives you the foundation for Tolkien's famous elven language, which I always like to proudly point out is based in Finnish. Hey, us Finns don't always have a lot to shout about!

The book also includes about a dozen other languages, such as various human tongues, the Black Speech of Mordor, high ancient tongues, common speech, etc. It takes all the words Tolkien gave us, translates them and offers some samples on how to elaborate on the fragments of the languages we have, such as verb conjugation.

Included are various glossaries, essays on Tolkien the conlanger's technique, and a Tolkien dictionary. While not for the average reader, this book is indispensable for fantasy fiction language lovers.

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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Norse Mythology

Norse MythologyNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a compulsively readable retelling of various myths from Norse Mythology.

Once upon a time, in that hazy prehistoric time before Goodreads, Neil Gaiman was my favorite author. Sandman was the gateway drug but I read all the Gaiman works I could get my hands on: American Gods, Neverwhere, Coraline, Stardust, you get the point. As the years went by, some of the shine wore off that penny. As I explored Gaimain's influences, like P.G. Wodehouse and Ray Bradbury, some of the magic was diminished.

Anyway, I heard Gaimain was writing this book and my interest was rekindled. I've been curious about Norse mythology since reading my first Thor comic. Gaimain delivers the goods here.

In Norse Mythology, Gaimain retells fifteen Norse myths, from the creation of the Aesir to Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, making them accessible to the modern reader.

All of the Norse gods you're familiar with from pop culture, namely Odin, Thor, Loki, Balder, and Heimdall, are here, as well as a slew of others like Vidar, Kvasir, and Hod. I was tangentially aware of some of what transpired, like Loki giving birth to a six-legged horse and Odin hanging from Yggdrasil, the world tree, for nine days and nights before gaining his wisdom, but a lot of it was new to me. The Aesir sure liked to booze it up, didn't they?

While there was quite a bit to like about this book, the thing that really stuck in my mind was Naglfar, the ship of the dead made out of fingernails. Really. Loki tying his junk to the beard of a goat for entertainment purposes was right up there, though.

Reading Norse Mythology, I noticed echoes of it in fantasy novels I've read in past couple decades, most notably The Elric Saga Part II and The First Chronicles of Amber. For my money, this is the best thing Gaimain has done since The Graveyard Book (though Doctor Who: Nothing O'Clock was also pretty sweet.) Four out of five stars.

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